Will the last moderate to leave Labour please turn the lights out?

The recent decisions of two talented Labour MPs to resigns their seats in Parliament shows how hopeless the Labour cause has become under Jeremy Corbyn.

Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke on Trent Central, is undoubtedly a man of considerable talent. An academic historian by background, an impressive Shadow Education Secretary, an author of definitive history texts, and a doctorate in Victorian Civic Pride. His commitment to the Labour Party spanned twenty years; but, unfortunately, he found himself top of the “most wanted” list of hard-left, entryist faction, Momentum.

The coming changes to constituency boundaries in Stoke on Trent will lead to hard-fought selection processes run by branches of the Labour Party now stuffed full of Corbyn supporting lefties who would have had Tristram Hunt’s scalp for his criticism of Jeremy Corbyn. Who can blame Hunt for leaving to take what must almost be his dream job as Director of the world-leading Victoria and Albert Museum? The same will happen all around the country as Labour moves towards selecting its candidates for the next general election.

Wouldn’t it have been interesting to be on the interview panel when Hunt was asked the inevitable question, “So why do you want to leave your current job?”. The blunt answer is because the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is heading for electoral oblivion.

Tristram Hunt isn’t the only talented Labour MP to have fled the Titanic as Corbyn and his crony crew drive it full speed into the electoral iceberg that is coming if Labour’s course isn’t changed urgently and significantly. Only a few weeks ago Labour MP Jamie Read announced he was standing down from his Copeland Constituency to take up a senior role in the nuclear power industry. This leaves Labour with two troubling by-elections.

In the Copeland Constituency, Labour were only 2,500 votes ahead of the Conservatives at the last General Election. In Stoke on Trent Central, Ukip were in second place, some 5,000 votes behind Labour. Too much should never be read into by-election results, but Labour strategists would have to be blind not to see the threat that tactical voting, with Ukip voters backing the Brexit-delivering Conservatives in Copeland; and Conservatives switching to Ukip in Stoke on Trent, could see Labour lose both seats.

Labour master-strategist Lord Peter Mandelson recently said he believed Mr Hunt quit politics because he was "unhappy", like "many other MPs" over Labour's electoral chances. "The prospects of us winning a national general election will remain distant the longer Jeremy Corbyn and his ramshackle outfit remain in charge of the party's fortunes," he told the BBC's Week in Westminster.

In this, Mandelson is correct, as far as he goes. But the real cause for despair is that MPs like Hunt and Reed, talented, media-friendly and moderate as they are, getting out before the selection process even starts can only see the Labour Party shift further to the left than its already unelectable extremism under Corbyn and John McDonnell, run as they are as the puppets of union paymasters such as Len McCluskey of Unite the Union.

Long-serving, die-hard Labour supporters, including this newspaper’s columnist, Cllr Leon Spencer, have been resigning or not renewing their Labour Party Membership over the last year in despair that the Party that was dragged back from the electoral precipice by Tony Blair and his supporters is once again teetering on the brink, with Momentum building up the pressure, lemming-like, for it to take that final fatal leap.

What is disturbing and chilling, is the glee that echoes around social media from Momentum supporters whenever a long-serving, loyal member leaves in despair. But, Momentum and other Corbynistas don’t just rejoice when moderate Labour members leave the party, they are actively pressing them to do so. There are Labour-supporting media commentators such as John McTernan, an early advisor to Tony Blair, who has dedicated his life to serving the Party, yet daily he faces a torrent of abuse on Twitter from Labour’s hard-left phalange hurling insults and trying to force him to resign.

As Tristram Hunt would know only too well as a historian, and in fact any sensible politician can see only too clearly, the battle of British politics is fought for the centre-ground, not the extremes. Even, perhaps initially counterintuitively, that’s what happened in the Brexit debate. For decades, the centre-ground seemed to be pro-European. Euro-sceptic MPs like Sir Bill Cash who challenged that paradigm were dismissed by the pro-European BBC and described as frankly mad by senior figures within the Conservative Party. But over the decades the view within the Conservative Party shifted, particularly at grass-roots level, to one of firm Euro-scepticism. Over the years, it became no longer a barrier to selection as a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate to argue for departure from the European Union and in many Conservative constituency association selection processes it became a distinct advantage to support Brexit.

Over the years, the centre-ground shifted, and by shifting with it, by pledging a referendum and then delivering it, the Conservative Party gained support. What Labour is now doing is quite the reverse.

Broadly speaking, there is a settled view in the United Kingdom that work should be rewarded, that taxes are too high, and that public services are not delivering. People do not like having their transport plans or healthcare disrupted by strikes. Union membership is falling. Even non-economists get it that to talk of a wage cap, a maximum amount anybody can earn, would destroy our economy overnight as investors and entrepreneurs, the wealth and job creators, flee the country. Where did that mad policy suddenly come from during the most recent of the whole series of Jeremy Corbyn relaunches? It seems Labour, under Corbyn, has intentionally abandoned the middle-ground of politics to return to the social disruption and disorder which were the hallmark of the 1970s.

Corbyn and his hard-left Momentum allies might look back fondly to a time when the rubbish piled up in the streets, the lights and heating for millions of people went off, the dead went unburied, and British manufacturing became a global joke. The British people did not enjoy that experiment in hard-left activism. They elected Margaret Thatcher again and again.

Our constitution, as this column has repeatedly opined, needs an effective Opposition to challenge Her Majesty’s Government and its polices. The Labour Party should be scoring body blows against the Government, as oppositions have done for decades, when problems are revealed in health and social care. Instead, we see Labour descending into the cold, black depths of internecine warfare and ideological extremism.

It’s easy to see why Jamie Read and Tristram Hunt have fled the Titanic. Sadly, they won’t be the last talented Labour MPs to do so.

This article first appeared in The Catholic Universe of 20th January 2017.

Cllr Chris Whitehouse KCSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, a Trustee of the Right To Life Charitable Trust, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).

t: @CllrWhitehouse